HOUSTON – Gut issues, headaches and even just feeling tired could all be signs you are eating something that doesn’t agree with you. Do you have a food sensitivity that is impacting your health?
KPRC 2 Investigates looks into various types of food intolerance tests. We look into how these tests work and we even tried out a few of them for ourselves. First, we will introduce you to a few people who have tried these types of tests.
Busy fitness coach struggles with gut issues
Chelsea Lipstreu is a Beachbody fitness coach who hits her workouts hard every day and stays in tune with even the smallest changes in her body.
“I’ve struggled with intestinal issues for a very long time,” said Lipstreu. “Maybe it’s food-related, maybe it’s not.”
So, when she started having unexplained GI problems, she decided to try one of those at-home food sensitivity tests.
“These food sensitivity tests are kind of all the rage,” she said.
Brandon Slaydon is a Human Resources Manager. He decided to order one of these tests after several dietary issues popped up.
“Some stiffness in the joints, weight gain, my head swelling,” said Slaydon.
Food sensitivity tests promise to show foods that are causing health issues
At home, food sensitivity tests like Everlywell, Ucari, 5Strands, and York Test promise with a prick of your finger or a hair sample, they can tell you what foods are causing you problems like bloating, headaches, GI trouble, and even joint pain. They are not allergy tests. The tests involving blood look for antibody reactions to different foods, and those involving hair look for other indicators, but the companies said results may not indicate what you’re sensitive to.
Lipstreu said her results showed, “mild reactivity to 11 different foods,” including chicken.
“The chicken was very surprising to me. I eat a lot of chicken,” she explained. “I never feel bad after eating chicken.”
Slaydon said his results listed a few things to avoid in his diet, but some of them he doesn’t even eat.
“Honestly, it didn’t give me the answers I was looking for,” he said. “There was one or two things I didn’t even know what the heck they were.”
Bill Spencer tries out different food intolerance tests
Investigator Bill Spencer decided to show us what you have to go through to take one of these home tests. He tried out the Everylywell food sensitivity test and the 5Strands affordable food intolerance test.
First up, the Everlywell test, which cost $147 and requires a blood sample.
Step one: Rinse your hands with warm water to get the blood flowing.
“Now comes the fun part... I’ve got to stab myself in the finger with this thing and then fill this card with blood,” said Bill.
Ten minutes and a lot of squeezing later, the card is full of the blood needed for the sample.
Next, Bill tried out the 5Strands Food Intolerance Test, which cost $94 and requires a hair sample.
“This one says it needs 10 to 15 strands of hair and you’ve got to pull them out of your head, you can’t cut them,” Bill said.
Catherine Kruppa is a registered dietician with 25 years running her own company, Advice for Eating. She said the tests in general may not provide accurate results.
“They’re a lot of work and their expensive,” said Kruppa.
Kruppa said people should use a food elimination diet to figure out which foods they are sensitive to. That’s also recommended by the at-home food sensitivity tests, like Everlywell and 5Strands. Both companies said you should use your results in conjunction with an elimination diet.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology does recommend against using these tests.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outlines research and sample plans on how to do an elimination diet.
Find answers to your FAQ about food intolerance tests
We reached out to Everlywell and the 5strands companies to learn more.
Everlywell sent us this statement:
Statement from Dr. Liz Kwo, MD, MBA, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at Everly Health (parent company of Everlywell).
“Food sensitivity testing has been offered by doctors, dietitians, and providers for decades. At-home collection has made it available at a fraction of the cost that many providers charge. In fact, the at-home collection test we offer access to does not differ substantially from testing that has been offered in doctor’s offices and clinics for decades except that it’s more affordable -- similar tests in doctor’s offices and clinics can cost up to $1000 or more.
Dozens of labs provide food sensitivity testing to doctors’ offices and providers across the country because it is relatively common for this type of testing to be included in a protocol when looking to diagnose a food-related issue. The lab that developed the food sensitivity test we offer is a globally renowned leader in laboratory testing and we know this test has helped change countless peoples’ lives for the better, as evidenced by the thousands of five-star reviews it has received.
Our model and mission has always been to provide people access to validated testing developed by high-quality labs at transparent and affordable prices. This test is no exception.”
Everlywell also has a FAQ section where you can search popular topics and find answers. You can read the full statement from Everlywell below.
Austin Collins, CEO/CMO of 5Strands sent us this statement:
" There is no one size fits all when it comes to defining what makes a healthy diet and lifestyle. From our company’s perspective, the 5Strands test is an entry-level health assessment that offers consumers an opportunity to create a personalized wellness plan. It is not meant to be, nor is it recommended to be used as a diagnostic tool. When a qualified professional use the 5Strands test in conjunction with functional health and nutrition, consumers tend to have amazing success. “If you need more content and detail please let me know.
As for how to address the nutritionists and their concern about the validation of our testing and how they should be used... Nutritionists like them should leverage the 5Strands report to help consumers find a starting point for their elimination diet. Then use their knowledge to find healthy replacements for the foods being eliminated so that nutrient deficiencies do not occur. The 5Strands testing results alone do not create change or success, because the implementation of the results is what truly matters.”
The company also has an entire section dedicated to answering frequently asked questions. You’ll find answers to questions about the science behind the test and how to get the best results.
More from the Everlywell statement:
Statement from Nicole Lindel, Registered Dietitian and Everlywell advisor:
“There are several peer-reviewed studies that show IgG-based food sensitivity testing is useful when used to guide a two-part elimination diet for a specific range of symptoms. In contrast, tests that utilize bioresonance technology to measure food intolerances are not supported by scientific literature. There are no clinical trials to support some of the claims that are being advertised to consumers.”
Tips from Nicole Lindel, RD and Everlywell advisor on selecting an at-home collection food sensitivity test:
Companies that do not provide clinical support for their products or do not offer information regarding how they process their results should be a major red flag for consumers. It is also important to avoid any at-home food sensitivity test providers that promise diagnostic results or claim to address an overly large list of symptoms that are not supported by science.
Look for a test that:
- Clearly defines what it measures and is based on peer-reviewed research.
- Is developed and processed in a CLIA-certified or CAP-accredited lab.
- Has claims that align with the research that supports it. For example, there are several peer-reviewed studies that show IgG-based food sensitivity testing is useful when used to guide a two-part elimination diet for a specific range of symptoms.
- Includes ongoing clinical support from a registered healthcare professional. (The Everlywell Food Sensitivity test includes access to a clinician-led webinar where you can ask questions and learn more about your results.)
- Finally, if a test promises diagnostic results for a long laundry list of symptoms, it might be too good to be true.
A number of peer-reviewed studies support this type of testing -- a shortlist can be found here (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). A more extensive list of studies can be found here.
Everlywell is committed to following the latest developments regarding the medical community’s understanding of food sensitivities while working to contribute to the growing body of research that supports food sensitivity testing the way we offer it: to help inform a temporary elimination diet and add-back challenge to help identify foods that may be contributing to symptoms like bloating, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues.
Additional information and clarifying statements:
- Physicians, dietitians, and other providers across the country continue to use this type of food sensitivity testing with their patients and it is available at such reputable institutions as Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
- As with any test, it’s important to follow its instructions for use. Everlywell recommends sharing the results with your healthcare provider, using the results to guide a temporary elimination diet and add-back challenge, and taking advantage of the webinar led by a healthcare professional that’s included with each kit, in order to make the best use of the results.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms are estimated to affect 2 out of 3 Americans, with 1 out of 5 Americans having experienced bloating in the last week and 1 out of 4 having experienced abdominal pain. There are many medical conditions that might cause symptoms related to the consumption of particular foods, food sensitivities being one of them. We actively work to educate test takers on the differences between food sensitivities and food allergies, and strongly encourage anyone experiencing chronic or debilitating symptoms to seek medical attention and consult with their providers before undertaking any major dietary changes.
- Each of the mail-in lab tests Everlywell offers includes results discussions led by registered healthcare providers or consults with physicians -- these services are included in the cost of each kit.